A prized program at Tennessee State University — the working farm along the Cumberland River in North Nashville — appears to have taken a direct hit in the tornadoes that slashed through Middle Tennessee early Tuesday.
Damage to the campus will be at least $20 million and could climb higher, says Curtis Johnson, chief of staff. Residence halls and some main campus buildings took on exterior damage — to roofs, siding and balconies — but he says the vast majority of the destruction was to the farm.
“Ninety-five percent of the damage was on the agriculture campus,” Johnson says. “It was completely demolished.”
The tornado went right through the center of the farm — a direct hit that ripped down walls, twisted iron fences and buried vehicles under stacks of debris. Labs, classrooms, greenhouses and other agriculture buildings were leveled.
“Right now, we’re just trying to stabilize and trying to get a sense of order back down there,” says Dr. Richard Browning, a research professor who oversees TSU’s meat goat program.
Browning arrived on campus in the predawn hours Tuesday. He found the school’s 80 head of cattle and 150 goats roaming aimlessly around their 90-acre tract.
“Some of them were grazing and some of them were mixed up,” he says. “Just kind of roaming around, not sure where to go, because animals — cattle and goats in particular — they’re kind of animals of habit.”
The school lost only two calves and hopes to save all of the goats. He says a priority is building structures, even temporary ones, to house the animals that survived.
TSU is working with the state Department of Agriculture, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and the Tennessee Board of Regents to assess the damage.